We’re slow but sure, starting to work on the boat, gearing everything to bluewater cruise for 3-4 years, with our two tiny children.

Several months ago, we attended the Marine Radio Operators Course offered by Orange Coast College through their spectacular School of Sailing and Seamanship in Newport, Ca.  We went with friends of ours who have since left after buying a boat on the East Coast with plans to start sailing in the Intercoastal Waterway, a good start.  Knowing the course instructor was the famous Mr. Gordon West (whom my mother had taken Ham Radio Class with in the late 70’s and again in the 90’s), I was a little intimidated at first.

But the course was fairly straightforward and Gordon West was awesome.  We attended the course to learn basic radio communications, but in truth it was focused on VHF communications and test preparation to prep for the MROP test, which we all passed.  At the end of the course, the testing led to the Marine Radio Operators Permit (MROP) and our FCC Registration Number (FRN).  This is a great start,,,if you’re staying in the US and you don’t want to operate HF or other systems.

But, what I didn’t know was that if you planned to take your boat out of the US (to foreign ports) or plan to use anything BUT VHF, EPIRB or Radar; you need to have an FCC Radio Station License.  This can be obtained by filing the FCC 605 Form online or in hard copy,,,hard copy was easier for me to fill out and send, hope it works.

In Gordon’s class we learned how valuable it would be to have a waterproof radio with Digital Selective Calling (DSC) capabilities.  This feature can be set off on contact with water automatically or by pressing the emergency button.  However, to get this feature to work you must have your 9 digit Maritime Mobile Service Identity (MMSI) Number assigned.  Some are already assigned (like with INMARSAT’s) from the factory, but nowadays most have to be assigned by the FCC.  Your MMSI is assigned by the FCC and will go into most of your automated electronics, a lifetime assignment number.  This is obtained by sending in the Schedule B form along with the FCC 605 Form, and must only be imputed into your DSC Radio once (no mistakes) or you have to send the radio back to the manufacturer.

I didn’t know all this, thinking I could buy my nifty new DSC radio and it would come with this all important number pre-assigned. The number isn’t pre-assigned, you must apply for it, wait on it and input it when you get it.  You can either send in all the paperwork and a check or you can wade through the FCC Website to figure out how to do it electronically.

Surprisingly, during Gordon’s class, the mother of all cruising radio’s, the HAM, was actually downplayed as modern communications are taking off by leaps and bounds and are becoming affordable, economical to operate over time and very easy to install.  After paying the up front hardware costs, you can get pretty much whatever communications you desire and a plan to match,,,,if you can afford it.  Our boat has HF and a Pactor Modem,,,which we’ll keep and use, but we may also have the ability to use wireless internet from shore, an emergency satellite phone and a phone we can use anywhere in the world and a plan to match,,,,so the kids can talk to the grandparents every weekend.

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